From the Fire Engineering Vault: Firemen Must Lead in Fire Prevention

Continuing our review of Fire Prevention Week history, we look at Fire and Water Engineering in the 1920s. President Woodrow Wilson issued the first presidential proclamation of Fire Prevention Day, which noted the annual loss of 15,000 lives and more than $230 million (about $2.7 billion today) in property. The loss is especially keen, according to the proclamation, because the need for American materials to aid recovery from “the ravages of the great war is especially great at this time.” According to the National Fire Protection Association, in 2011, the American fire departments responded to 370,000 home structure fires, which caused 13,910 civilian injuries; 2,520 civilian deaths; and $6.9 billion in direct damage.

The public is “naturally careless” regarding fire prevention and protection, and “the average citizen gives little thought to the dangers … [due to the] carelessness that surrounds him,” opined the editor in the September 8, 1920, issue of Fire and Water Engineering (CLICK HERE to download as a PDF, 1.9 MB). Commonsense methods of fire prevention can eradicate fire losses, the editor continued, and the role of individual carelessness in causing fires should be emphasized. “To arouse this individual to a sense of his danger and his duty is the object of observing Fire Prevention Day.” The fire losses in the United States, the editor concluded, have given the U.S. the “uneviable reputation of being the most careless nation in this respect on the earth.”  In the October 6, 1920 edition, the editor urged his readers to “strain every nerve to bring these facts [regarding fire loss and prevention] and their lessons home to each citizen and show that all are in a measure responsible for the existing condition.”  In “Firemen Must Lead in Fire Prevention” (Fire and Water Engineering, March 1, 1922, CLICK HERE for PDF, 271 KB), the author urges readers to “[make] your fire department both a prevention and an extinguishing unit.”


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